Terry’s Tastings

Terry’s Tastings It’s All About Taste

Canadian Wine – What exactly are they? First a little history and then the different categories of Canadian wines. Around the year 1000 A.D. Leif Erickson sailed from Iceland to Newfoundland, calling it Vinland because he believed he had found wild grapes growing there. There are indications that the Vikings made wine at the L’Anse aux Meadows settlement. Fast forward to the European discoveries of Canada in the 1500’s and we find that the Church began to make sacramental wine because of the difficulties of importing wine from Europe.

Johann Schiller, who had served with the British army in Quebec, began making wine in the Niagara region in 1811, but died in 1816 and his sons sold the property. In the 1860’s Father Pandosy planted vines and made wine at the Oblate mission in Kelowna. These early wines were made with native grapes and frost-resistant American hybrids, not the classic European wine grape varieties we are familiar with today. By 1890 there were 41 commercial wineries in Canada, 35 of them in Ontario.

Early Canadian commercially produced wines were sweet, generally high in alcohol, and given European-sounding names to make them more attractive to consumers. Some examples are Schloss Laderheim and Hochtaler. Then there were the pop wines like Baby Duck and Spumante Bambino, sweet, fizzy, and aimed at a younger generation of wined rinkers.

Everything changed in 1988-89 when the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented and eliminated the protective tariffs imposed on imported wines. Ontario and B.C. grapegrowers, subsidized by their provincial governments, began a massive pull-out and replanting of their vineyards with Vitis Vinifera grapevines imported from Europe. The VQA, Vintners Quality Alliance, system of classifying Canadian wines, came into effect in Ontario in 1989 and in B.C. in 1990.

These regulations require the following standards to earn the VQA label: 100% of the grapes must be grown in Canada and in the province named on the label; A minimum of 85% of the varietal named must be in the wine and must be grown in the designated area; If a vineyard is named, 100% of the grapes must be grown in that vineyard; The wines must be tasted by a panel of judges to determine varietal characteristics and quality.

Difficulties in meeting these standards, especially in poor harvest years, and the demand for higher volumes of wine, led to the development of the CIC, Cellared in Canada, designation. These wines are blends of Canadian juice (sometimes as low as 15%) and imported juice from countries which grow many more grapes; e.g. Chile and the U.S. They are generally of lower quality and not standardized in any way, and are sold at lower prices than VQA wines. Even though on a store shelf and to consumers they are considered Canadian wines, they actually are not. The only thing Canadian about them is the small quantity of Canadian wine in the blend and their blending and bottling by Canadian wineries.  And then there are the fruit/berry wines, made from fruit other than grapes and even from rhubarb and honey. But they are the basis for another story.

Wines of the week: Both of these wines will be great as Easter wines, pairing well with ham, turkey, and other traditional Easter dishes.

Summerhill Organic Pinot Gris – Kelowna, Okanagan Valley  $19.90    
This naturally made Pinot Gris with its distinctive copper colour, is light and slightly off-dry with aromas and flavours of pear, peach, and melon. It is a delicious patio sipper and great with shellfish, seafood, poultry, and salads.

Ex Nihilo Pinot Noir – Lake Country, Okanagan Valley  $35.05
This Pinot Noir was aged in oak for 9 months, 30% in new oak and 70% in 2nd and 3rd use barrels. This adds a smoky undertone to the earthy, cherry, and raspberry aromas and flavours associated with Pinot Noir. Medium-bodied with a spicy finish, this wine will pair well with salmon, pork, poultry, and milder cheeses.

Until next time! Please send comments and questions to Terry Tait